2014, folk-rock singer Kaela Rowan released her debut solo
CD Menagerie. Featuring Kaelas vocals and
songs, Menagerie is described as a combination of both Scottish
and World Music sounds. Kaela gets excellent backup from her co-producer
and arranger James Mackintosh. Between Kaela and James, the
instrumentation blends acoustic guitars and classical guitars with
exotic World Music instruments like pandeiro, kalimba, berimbau as
well as a variety of percussion instruments. Kaelas voice is
front and center throughout the 11 song CD and her captivating vocal
mannerisms and the intriguing instrumentation make Menagerie an
excellent album start to finish. Commenting on the wide range of musical
influences on Menagerie Kaela tells mwe3.com, "Scottish
traditional music has doubtless informed the music of Menagerie. And
for my part, I had a deep love for Gaelic song, Scots and Irish Ballad
singing from a young age, so the melodies definitely have this influence
in them, as I would naturally gravitate towards this sound."
Speaking about working with Kaela Rowan and the creation of Menagerie,
Kaelas co-producer and band mate James Mackintosh tells
mwe3, It was good to sit down and make our own album. Speaking
as someone who has spent so many years working in the studio on other
peoples projects it was a real treat to make one where we both were
able to make the artistic decisions. We made it in our own time and
in our own space, and that is a real treat... no rush, although deadlines
can be good! Featuring 11 tracks, Kaela Rowans Menagerie
is an enchanting album by a rising artist to keep your eyes on.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
KAELA ROWAN and JAMES MACKINTOSH
How did you meet and how did that lead to the recording of the Menagerie
CD? Where and when was the music on Menagerie written and
recorded and how did you choose the CD title?
KAELA ROWAN: We were first aware of each other in high school
in Lochaber in the Highlands of Scotland where we both came from.
We became pals when I started playing music with my first band 'Pennycroft',
with Angus Grant of the band Shooglenifty. We would turn up at the
same Celidhs, parties and sessions around the highlands and in Edinburgh
during the art school days. We then ended up playing in the same band
Mouth Music in the 90's together and when that folded we started
another band called Sola, together with Quee MacArthur (also of Shooglenifty)
around 1996. This was where we had our first music writing and recording
experiences together. We only released one song, though heaps more
remains in a cupboard unreleased. It was 'Set Free' on the 'Blunted
2' compilation. I believe it was released in America. Then both James
and I pursued other projects until we came together again to work
around 2006 or 7. Right through the 90's I had been recording material
on my 4 track acoustically. I played a lot with harmony ideas as I
especially loved Bulgarian and African harmony singing. I also loved
Indian scales, so I footered about and filled up many tapes! I decided
I wanted to put it together as an album. I was living in Leith at
the time. I let James hear some of the music and he seemed keen to
work on them with me and that is when Menagerie started its formation.
James Mackintosh: We met in Lochaber High School in The North
West Highlands of Scotland. Friends until our teens, until one fateful
day in the late 1990s, I called Kaela as the band I was in (Mouth
Music) had urgent need of a singer who sang in Gaelic, for a BBC television
recording called The Late Show. We rehearsed for a couple of days
and drove to London. We didnt tell her it was live until we
were on set. We worked together in Mouth Music for a few great years
and after the disbanding we continued to work and write together for
a few more. Then life got in the way for both of us until a few years
ago when our paths crossed again and we decided, right, lets
finally make that album! Kaela chose the title...
influential was Scottish folk music on you? Would you describe the
Menagerie album as being more Scottish, folk or World Music
Kaela Rowan: I would say it is all of the above. Scottish traditional
music has doubtless informed the music of Menagerie. And for
my part, I had a deep love for Gaelic song, Scots and Irish Ballad
singing from a young age, so the melodies definitely have this influence
in them, as I would naturally gravitate towards this sound. Some are
obvious more than others such as "Ballad (And the Stars
for their love did weep)" and "Apocalypse", who more
closely follow the traditional form of the story telling "Ballad"
and are in keeping with Scottish traditional musical scales. A lot
of work songs in Gaelic are very hypnotic too and I loved that. From
my days of touring with Mouth Music, I experienced a lot of music
from around the world, particularly in the WOMAD festivals. I was
fascinated by it. Like with the Gaelic work songs, I developed a love
for cyclical patterns in music, I loved its hypnotic quality and I
loved the raspy home grown metal and wood instruments used. A whole
world of music was opening up to me, it was an exciting time. I loved
the harmony from South African choirs to the Misa Luba. I loved Nusrat
Fateh Ali Khan. I loved the music of countries like Jordan, adored
strong rhythm and I also developed a love of delicate musical instruments
such as the kalmiba or the robust sound of the Brazilian / African
Berimbau. My own singing came from Crosby Stills Nash & Young
and Joan Armatrading.
James Mackintosh: Thats a nice description, thank you!
Very influential, but speaking personally, no more influential than
all of the above. Everything Ive ever heard has influenced me
in some way, be it pop, rock, Afro-jazz, house, etc, etc. I know Kaela
was weaned on a great record collection, John Martyn to Joni Mitchell
to Osibisa to Planxity and Ossian, and we both grew up in the acoustic
session environment, so I guess fairly influential, so glad if it
shows through. The integrity of it would be a good influence.
You play a range of exotic World Music instruments including kalimba
and berimbau. What made you want to combine exotic instruments on
the Menagerie CD? Can you tell us about your guitars and how
would you describe your guitar style? How about keyboards or special
computer programs that you feature on the CD?
Kaela Rowan: I have mentioned above some instruments, I also
love the jaw harp which did not make it on the album, but will in
the next one... It seemed like a very natural thing to do. Both James
and I have a great love of interesting percussive instruments from
around the world. Perhaps we were aware that it was broadening the
atmosphere a bit more than if we were just using traditional Scottish
instruments, but it was not a very conscious decision, they were just
the instruments we naturally reached for because of our love for them.
We have a rather nice collection of things gathered over the years
in the house. As for guitar style well, I grew up on a fare
few John Martyn albums and so I must have picked up a bit of guitar
slap style from him I reckon. He was an amazing writer, singer and
musician. Other instrumentalists that influenced me were Joan Armatrading,
James Taylor, Neil Young. I loved all their guitar work. I also loved
Dick Guaghan 's open tuning style and Planxty's Donal Lunny and his
rhythmic playing. I of course loved the American country style playing
of Little Feat and the Grateful Dead, two other great loves of mine.
Och, too many more to mention....
James Mackintosh: Weve always loved the kalimba. I finally
bought one, a tenor model that has an electric pick up and records
really well. As a percussionist its great to play. We wanted
different textures so we played whatever came to hand and we couldnt
really afford lots of session players, so our palette was restricted
to what we both play. The berimbau was played by our great friend
and colleague Quee MacArthur, who became quite adept at it during
his Capouiera infatuation a few years back. You have to watch out
when he starts - hes a big guy. The only keyboard sounds are
a couple of samples I made up and tweaked myself, apart from the live
piano on Naïve Melody which was played by Donald
Shaw, of Capercaillie, a good friend and colleague.
to Menagerie, what other albums did you record? I saw Kaelas
name with the bands Mouth Music and Shooglenifty, so can you
tell us about your past recorded works and how they compare to Menagerie?
Kaela Rowan: I recorded four albums with Mouth Music. My favourite
is Mo Di as I feel it is a very accomplished album and when
we played that material live it totally rocked, some of the best gigs
of my life. I sung mostly in Gaelic unless doing BV's (backing vocals)
for Jackie Joyce, the other front vocalist. I loved singing harmonies
together and playing percussive parts on various strange instruments.
We played around with atonal harmony, made very popular then by Bulgarian
groups. Martin Swan was the main arranger of that project. Mo Di
actually did very well in the Billboard World Music charts if I remember
rightly. The others were Shore Life, where I really just sang
a whole manner of crazy world music style vocals, if there's a strange
vocal sound there it was likely me who made it. Then a big
gap and a couple more acoustic albums around 2002 and 2003. Then when
Sea Faring Man and The Order of Things... I sung in
both Gaelic and English on these albums. These were Martin Swan's
arrangements and he was a stickler for a clean sound. I'm not as big
a fan of this, I think it's a bit overrated maybe being brought
up on vinyl. I prefer a wee bit of grit about my music.
James Mackintosh: Well, I was a founding member of Shooglenifty
back in 1990 and Ive also been a session musician since my 20s.
Ive played with Mouth Music, Cappercaillie, Michael McGoldrick,
The String Sisters, The Transatlantic Sessions including James Taylor,
Pattie Griffin, Tim O Brian etc etc ,Ross Ainslie, John McKusker,
Tejedor, Duncan Chisholm... I better stop, theres been a fair
good to sit down and make our own album. Speaking as someone who has
spent so many years working in the studio on other peoples projects
it was a real treat to make one where we both were able to make the
artistic decisions. We made it in our own time and in our own space,
and that is a real treat... no rush, although deadlines can be good!
was it like making the trip to Jodphur for the 2013 and 2014 RIFF
festivals? I saw the videos tell us about some really exotic scenes
there! Youre unique in that you use some really strange instruments
and combine a spacey almost New Age vibe in places.
Kaela Rowan: Well, sitting in a room with 5 of the most incredible
Rajasthani traditional musicians and singers was a moment, or actually
a few days, I will never forget. They were all men and all from the
desert and they told me they got about on Camels. They were members
of Khan family of Manganiar and were of Muslim faith. They were wrapped
in the most beautiful cotton clothes, the older men sporting amazing
mustaches and proudly wearing bright orange, yellow and red coloured
turbans the older men wore them all the time and the younger
for more formal occasions, like the gig we did together. Sitting in
the room next to Diyam Khan and Kasam Khan singing right next to me,
moved me to my core. They had huge voices. They sang from some where
deep deep inside, that seemed to connect back in time through centuries,
back to their ancestors, back to their story as a people. The tambour,
the scales, the ancient stories and tales they sang, the very vibration
from their chest cavities, the complete commitment to their song,
and the obvious big love of their music. They lived and breathed their
musical traditions. It was quite an honor to spend this time with
them. In fact we all became good pals. I sang with both of them on
the main stage at the Jodphur RIFF in 2013 in a fantastic musical
collaboration. I often think of them playing and singing away in their
villages, with life going on around them as normal.
James Mackintosh: Its an extraordinary festival. Divya
Bhatia, the director, invited us over after hearing Kaela sing in
Glasgow, and she was the first non-devotional singer to perform the
dawn concert, on the grounds of the Meranghar fortress, from dark
through sunrise, on an ancient Maharajas funeral dais. The audience
are sleeping on mattresses and you start your performance at 5 am
in the dark, so we especially arranged a set of music to bring them
into the day gently... we must record it one day. The musicianship
of the Rajasthanis, their hospitality and the inspiration they gave
us was extraordinary. Its one of the best festivals. Go there!
were some of your big musical influences and how do you feel it comes
out in your music? I did see names like Kate Bush and Ivor Cutler
on your Facebook page! I remember Ivor from the movie Magical Mystery
Tour and his albums on Virgin were quite bizarre.
James Mackintosh: Yes, its true we both share a love
of Kate Bushs work. We went to one of her gigs in London last
year. I would have gone home happy after the first 5 songs... then
the show started! I have many disparate influences, from Kraftwerk
to Ivor Cutler, to Planxty then over to Ennio Morricone and Miles
Davis... hopefully they all come out in the music in the spirit of
exploration, emotion and expression.
Kaela Rowan: How long have you got....? I developed a great
love for Ivor Cutler back in the 1980's and was lucky enough to see
him play in Edinburgh. He was quite a cult figure and I found him
very funny... it may help being Scottish to get his humor! However
I also loved his delicate simplistic songs. Harmonically gorgeous
and most often from a child's point of view, with a delightful innocence
and gentleness about them. There's not enough of that in this world...
I loved Crosby Stills and Nash, the warmth of their sound, the enveloping
harmony that could cradle you on a summers evening. I love the song
writing of Joan Armatrading and Neil Young. I particularly liked their
acoustic work. Kate Bush with her uncompromising song writing and
atmosphere, particularly Hounds of Love. My moment in the album
has to be when the Gregorian chant happens, simply spell binding and
so clever. We were lucky enough to get tickets to see her last year
in her London Hammersmith show. Another huge love of mine is the incredible
and mighty Dick Gaughan. A Hand full of Earth is possibly the
biggest album of my life. Other big loves were Massive Attack and
Portishead, with their dark and brooding grooves. Bjork, for her incredible
inventiveness and at that time, she had the ultimate refreshing and
creative sound - kind of a raw techno singer - songwriter. I also
grew up on many Bob Marley albums, Dark Side Of The Moon and
Wish You Were Here, plus Carmina Burana which blew my head
off at the age of three and I remember it. Apparently I could sing
the whole album. Nina Simone and Billie Holliday are also great loves.
Ladies of great power. They must all have seeped into my musical genes
in a myriad of ways. I have expressed elements of them all Im sure.
I love the way musicians are an undefinable brew of musical soup from
their own culture and way way beyond.
did you collaborate on writing the Menagerie songs and can
you tell us about the recording process on the CD? Was it done live
in the studio or were there a lot of overdubs? The CD sound is fantastic
so clearly a lot of work went into it.
Mackintosh: Kaela had a lot of songs hanging around her old analogue
four track, so we listened through, and began from there. I think,
with Mon Ami, at my place in The Scottish Borders. Its
a big old open plan schoolhouse with nice acoustics, so we went in
for a few days at a time with my pro tools set up, a few nice mics
and layered it up gradually, maybe a guitar guide one day, kit or
percussion the next day. Then in a very relaxed fashion we worked
on the final mix with the aforementioned Quee (Quee) MacArthur up
in his studio in Fife, and then mastered it with the brilliant Calum
Malcolm (The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout etc.) at his studio in East
Lothian. The next album will be totally live, 4 mics, and well
have it finished in one week max.
there a track from the Menagerie
CD that youre getting more airplay on?
Are different genres picking up o different tracks some are more folk
and some are more alt-folk. How has radio and press been in Scotland,
England and in other countries? I would think thered be a lot
of interest in your sound world wide.
Kaela Rowan: "Apocalypse" and "Ballad"
got a lot of airplay on Radio Scotland, Radio Nan Gaidheal and Radio
Wales on Folk and Traditional Music shows. The UK wide Radio 3 favoured
"Apocalypse" on their World On 3 show, which was lovely
and a fare few regional folk and World music radio stations picked
it up in England too. One of our main UK wide national stations -
Radio 6 Music played "Naive Melody", our David Byrne song,
which was nice. We still have a lot more promo to do. We got distracted
by the referendum last year and worked hard on the campaign for independence.
So we will be doing this more in 2015. We have had some really nice
reviews of Menagerie most of them are up on the website.
James Mackintosh: Its odd, Gaelic radio (BBC Scotland)
has been playing every track, even though its not in Gaelic
and theres been a fairly generous smattering across different
stations over here. Some both National Radio 2, Radio 6, and various
shows on Radio Scotland and BBC Ireland, and local stations across
the whole country. No idea about worldwide, although there have been
a few purchases from Japan so they must have heard it somehow, now
theres somewhere wed like to go!
are you listening to and even in the same genre with musically these
days? Are there other artists in the 21st century folk / World Beat
sound that you consider cutting edge?
Kaela Rowan: At the moment I like Lisa Knapp from England and
Kirsty Law from the Scottish Borders. Both doing trad singing in inventive
How do you balance your professional careers with life? What are the
ways you spend your down time in order to relax and rejuvenate yourselves?
Kaela Rowan: I only wish we had pets, I long for the day we
can have dog for a constant pal, but life does not allow that yet.
I like to walk along the river Tweed, it is a very beautiful and peaceful
river. We both enjoy a good film and of course reading. Playing music
ironically, thats always a lovely thing to do. Walks on Portibello
beach with family that kind of thing.
James Mackintosh: Well Im about to have my first
proper holiday for a couple of years, and mostly I relax by doing
a bit of cooking and DIY in the aforementioned place where we recorded
our album is never ending, its a labor of love.
is the plan for 2015 as far as live shows, writing and recording new
music? I know youre finishing a new album with Shooglenifty.
How will that compare sound wise with the Menagerie album?
Kaela Rowan: The Shooglenifty album is very different. For a start
it id mostly in Gaelic. Its going back to one of my great loves
'Puirt a beul', which means tunes of the mouth and it is literally
singing tunes, but with amazing rhythmic words. These songs were used
during repetitive work hence their hypnotic quality and when instruments
were banned in certain areas in the islands they sang to make up for
it, so some of these kinds of songs must have blossomed as a result.
You just can't repress music in people, it comes out no matter how
you try to stop it! We will be recording an album predominantly of
ballads and a few Gaelic songs too, the ones I sang when I was a lot
younger. I thought it would be really nice to document that part of
my musical life. The aim is to release this by mid July, or thereabouts.
This album will be more simple and sparse, and we are setting up some
touring in Scotland mostly Sept / Oct / Nov 2015 to tour both albums.
Please feel free to invite us over we would of course be delighted!
Mackintosh: Yes were hoping to gig more this year. Plans
are afoot. We played a couple of slots at Woodford Folk Festival in
Queensland in January past and they went really well, Although it
looks like Shoogleniftys 25th anniversary year and album will
take up most of the summer, weve got gigs from Borneo to Brittany
and quite a few in between. The Shooglenifty sound is more high energy
kind of punk, raucous dance music. We were 6 instrumental guys before
we invited Kaela in. Her contribution is amazing though, its
great to hear Scots Gaelic sung amidst some grit and dirt, and of
course she can rock as hard as any guy, if not harder) so look out
for the album, around May called The Untied Knot.